Saturday, October 21, 2017

What am I afraid of?

Most of my life, heights have bothered me. I could stand on an edge with a railing, but not too close. I could not watch movies or television shows with actors on the side of tall buildings, like Tom Cruise on Dubai’s tallest or dizzying shots of mountain climbers or skiers.

We went to Italy In May and one day drove from Florence to the Mediterranean on the freeway then back through the mountain roads. For the most part, I was on the cliff side of the car. For the most part, there were no guard rails. For the most part, I was terrified. I’d never been that high except in an airplane and while it was a clear day, the ‘bottom’ was often too far away to see or identify. I wanted to shut my eyes, but for some reason, that made my heart pound even harder. It was the worst “10-ticket ride” I’ve ever had!

However, this lofty experience did one positive thing; it cured my fear of heights. It took a while because for several nights I had bad dreams of soaring off a cliff into bottomless space, but now heights are not a big issue.

This trip and subsequent thoughts about it often remind me that God is not the author of fear . . .

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:5–14, italics mine)

This week, several people shared with me their life situations and concerns. At least two of them are filled with fears, some over life-threatening possibilities, and some over loss of control and other losses. Their stories brought home to me the reality that fear is a slave driver. It was holding them in bondage, keeping them from enjoying life to the full, just as my fear kept me from enjoying the vast splendor of that Italian mountain range.

Paul writes to Timothy and reminds him that God gave him faith, and that he needed to fan that spark into a flame, building it with the knowledge that faith comes with a spirit of power, love and self-control. Power is the ability to rise above natural forces and be victorious in situations because God is with me. Love is the attitude that is more concerned with others to the point that self-concerns are simply put aside. Self-control is being sensible and wise, not living in the flesh with it fears and foibles, but in the awareness of God’s power and ability to take care of me.

This passage says fearless living means no hesitation about sharing the Gospel out of being fearful of what people will think or do. it means no worry about losing my salvation or losing anything else that God has entrusted to me. It is being able to concentrate on the things of God without any reservation, knowing that God is in control of not only my life but the lives of others.

That said, I can easily apply that to the fears shared with me this week. I can easily say, “Isn’t God in charge?” Yet I can also hear the “Yes, but . . .” responses. I know what they are from my own experiences. I could easily cringe in terror with, “Yes, but what if the car brakes fail?” or “What if a cow walks across the road in front of us?” or any number of things a fearful imagination can come up with to justify itself.

Before he became a Christian, my hubby forbade our children to say, “what if” in speculation about anything. Now he realizes those words can be part of good planning but with limits. However, if they are said in fear of some event that may or may not happen, they indicate lack of faith in the sovereignty of God. God wants us to live in awe of Him not in fear of the what-ifs!

Jesus, in reflection I realize the need to be sensible, but I also need to be fearless. I would not go out on a crumbling mountain slope without proper equipment, or ride a wild horse, or get on a Brahma bull (even though I once did all three) unless You directed these. But this is not what You are saying. Being fearless is about living my faith without fear of what might happen. It is also about trusting You to take care of anything that threatens me, including all those big and little things that turn my focus from faith to self-protection, to fussing about the ‘what ifs’ and worries that keep me from rising above threats and challenges, from loving others, from living in wisdom and under the control of the Holy Spirit. I also need to remember these things and be wise as others share their fears, not belittling them but turning their thoughts to You, the One who has saved them from sin and has the power to save them from all their fears.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Identifying genuine Christians

While God knows all who belong to Him, often I’m not sure. People in my family claim to be Christians, as do friends and others I’ve met, but are they just ‘nice’ folks? Or has Jesus come into their lives?

While this is an issue that must be left with God, how to pray for them is my concern. Christians need prayer support as they grow in grace. Others need Jesus to come into their lives as believers pray for the power of grace to bring them into God’s family. While the Bible has much to say about identifying true faith, here is an interesting passage that helps me better understand how to ID believers and pray for them:

“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4–10)

The writer says he knows that his readers in Thessalonica are God’s people because the Holy Spirit fully convicted them. This could be two kinds of conviction. One is that they realized the depth of their sinfulness. It was not a ‘Sure, I mess up now and then’ conviction, but a deeper understanding that produced sincere crying out to God to save them.

The second conviction is deeply knowing that God heard their prayer and that the answer to that cry is the Lord Jesus Christ. They were convicted that they not only needed Him, but that He is who He claims to be — God’s answer to sin, the Messiah, Savior and Lord of all.

Secondly, they demonstrated they were God’s people by placing themselves under the leadership and example of God’s people. This is not a blind following. They understood the Word of God and lived it out, demonstrating their faith without being exhorted to do so. The fruit of the Holy Spirit was there and evident.

Along that line, another evidence was that they turned from idols to not only worship God, but to serve Him. Reflecting on that, I realize many can claim to be Christians but refuse to become involved in serving God. Is this because they have not given up on other gods that they trust for many things? Idolatry is far more common in our world than we realize as many of today’s idols are not as easily seen as carvings in wood and stone.

Another evidence of true faith in Christ is that attitude of waiting, even eagerly waiting, for Jesus to return. I know people who claim to believe in Him, even serve in a church, but who do not believe Jesus is going to return. For some of them, He is not even a real person, more an idea, a mythical example for us to live by and not the very source of life.

Those who claim to belong to God’s family are usually pleasant, friendly, and live a good life. However, their ‘faith’ is misplaced and will eventually be exposed by their attitude toward sin and the second coming. The Bible gives other ways to ‘test the spirits’ but these help me better understand how to pray.

Jesus, thank You for hearing the need of my heart today. I’ve stuttered when trying to pray for a few people because I don’t know where they stand with You. This Word from You immensely helps me!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

What makes it hard to die?

A man had a large estate, a fine home and a good piece of property. His wife, his children and his grandchildren were alive and with him. This man said to his pastor, ‘These are the things that make it hard to die.’

God immediately prompts me with the same question: What in my life makes it hard to die? Unlike many my age, I do not have a bucket list. There are no activities or goals that I ‘must do’ before I die. However, I have a to-do list that includes quilts I’d like to make, fabric and patterns to sew into garments, several books to read, and a long list of people for whom I pray.

This tells me something about priorities. It also reveals my roots. My parents demonstrated the importance of using what you have, of not wasting anything. The only way I could turn off my desire to ‘finish’ projects before I die is to give away the projects — I cannot take them with me! I’m thinking the only way I would be ready to leave this earth would be if I had nothing left to do.

What about my prayer list? Can I take that with me? There is no biblical evidence for people in heaven praying for people on earth, so I doubt it. God does say eternity will have no sorrow or pain and He will wipe away all tears. That tells me that the concerns for which I pray will not burden me after I die. These thoughts help me to have a more positive answer to that question of what makes it hard to die!

Yet today’s devotional verses speak of a different kind of dying. The author headlines this quote from the Apostle Paul:

“I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:31)

He is writing about the certainty of resurrection, then in this verse he hints that he is daily learning to ‘die’ to those things that rob him of that eternal anticipation. Dying daily is not a physical diminishing, but a detachment of affection and value from all that tug at me, that make me want to stay here rather than be with Jesus. Dying daily puts all desires, concerns, values, and that bucket list into the hands of God. It is saying, “You know what truly matters for my life, for this life and I am going to trust You with it.”

Paul later wrote these words:

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 4:16–5:10)

The growth and renewal of the inner person ought to happen even as I age. The sure knowledge of eternal life with Jesus appeals to me, yet while I am here my goal is to please Him, not finish my projects or check off a bucket list.

One other quote also challenges me. George Whitefield said, “The time is short. I try to keep all my affairs so arranged that, if I were to die at any time, they would be no trouble to those who come after me.” Most of us eventually need to take care of what someone we love has left behind. It is a difficult task, one that I do not want to leave with my children. How much better to keep my affairs in order!

Jesus, You came into this world without ownership, as did I. You left this world the same way as I will, without anything — except You won victory over sin and death! Because of that, I will have the same victory. This seems to be the best answer to the question of what makes dying hard. Rather than cling to whatever I cannot take with me, I need to focus on what I will gain —the glory of finally putting sin, pain and all struggles aside and being able to gaze into Your face. I need to concentrate less on the “I lose” file and more on the one that says “I won.”